Freemasonry often says that it is not so much a secret society as a society with secrets; with about 320,000 members in England and Wales,1 tens of thousands on the continent and maybe three and a half million in North America, classing it with small, secret cabals of a few dozen is laughable. Nevertheless Freemasonry prefers to keep its rituals secret; even though most of them have been published, Freemasonry still officially restricts them to initiates only.
It is only with computerized records that the number of individual members has been known accurately. Previous estimates of 600,000 Masons in England and Wales were based on Lodge memberships, and many Masons are members of more than one Lodge. It is not particularly expensive to be a member of the Craft, though costs rise as one joins additional Lodges, and additional Orders. For an ordinary Mason in the UK who is a member of one Provincial Lodge (i.e. outside London), including his annual dues to United Grand Lodge, his own Lodge subscriptions, and the cost of dining after Lodge meetings, the total annual cost in 2007 is probably only around £100, though it varies from lodge to lodge.
Contrary to the claims of critics, very few current British MPs or Lords are Freemasons; the heyday for Masonic MPs was from the 1860s till the First World War. After that, says John Hamill, former Librarian and Curator at Freemasons' Hall, London and later Director of Communications for United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), both society and politics changed considerably; politics became a full-time job, and few politicians could find the time for active Freemasonry. Only two British prime ministers have ever been Masons: George Canning in the early nineteenth century, and Winston Churchill early in the twentieth century.
THIS IS A VERY INTERESTING FACT, AND IT PROBABLY IS SOMEWHAT THE SAME FOR THE USA. THE EXTREME GROUPS WHO SEE EVERYTHING AS A "CONSPIRACY" - THE MASONRY PEOPLE BEHIND EVER GOVERNMENT MOVE, THE MASONRY PEOPLE PLOT TO TAKE OVER THE USA AND THE WORLD; ALL SUCH OUTLANDISH, WILD, CLAIMS AND TEACHINGS ARE OUTRIGHT SILLY, DUMB, AND WILD. BIBLE PROPHECY FOR THE END TIMES IS ANYTHING BUT SOME "SECRET SOCIETY" TAKING OVER THE WORLD, STAMPING 666 ON YOUR HAND OR FOREHEAD, AND TELLING YOU TO WORSHIP BEFORE ITS FEET - Keith Hunt
So much has been written on Freemasonry, both for and against, and much of it either obscure, misleading or biased, that a moderately interested reader coming upon any one book on the subject is most unlikely to find anything approaching a useful and balanced account. It will thus be useful to mention in this chapter a number of books, and their merits and faults.
***Freemasons used to be quite open about their membership of the Craft, and Freemasonry as a body was publicly visible; there would be Masonic services in churches, Masonic processions through high streets and Masonic ceremonies at the laying of foundation stones of major new buildings. Then at some time between the two world wars, for no reason that anyone can now think of, Freemasonry drew in its horns, closed in on itself, and became profoundly secretive. When attacks were made on it, this secrecy only served to reinforce the suspicions of outsiders.***
Stephen Knight's The Brotherhood, poorly argued as it was, came as something of a bombshell in 1983. Suddenly Freemasonry was in the news, and stayed in the news. Knight's book had one beneficial result: the following year the governing bodies of British Freemasonry officially dropped the closed-mouth attitude. Senior Freemasons were now prepared to talk to the press, even - in the case of Commander Michael Higham, the Grand Secretary of United Grand Lodge in the 1990s2 - appearing on radio phone-in programmes. Freemasons' Hall on Great Queen Street in London set up a permanent public exhibition of many Masonic treasures, and allowed non-Masons, both male and female, to visit its Temple. At least two public relations videos have appeared about Freemasonry, one of them showing the ceremony at Earls Court in 1992 for the 275th anniversary of the founding of the Grand Lodge. Several classic works of Freemasonry have been reissued by the Aquarian Press, under the general editorship of John Hamill. And senior Freemasons such as Hamill have written books about Freemasonry, officially laying to rest many of the more outlandish theories, some of which had been propounded by Freemasons themselves in the past.
The Freemasons may have left it just too late. Knight's book was followed by by Martin Short's far better written, but far more vicious Inside the Brotherhood (1989). Both had a devastating effect on the reputation of Freemasonry. According to Hamill, Freemasonry is beginning to recover from this damage, but it's a long, slow process. 'It's the old cliche: it takes fifty years to make a reputation, it takes thirty seconds to lose it - and it takes seventy years to rebuild it.3
Before moving on to an examination of Freemasonry in the context of this book, it is therefore necessary to look briefly at this perennial topic.
Is Freemasonry corrupt?
According to The Brotherhood and Inside the Brotherhood, Freemasonry is absolutely riddled with corruption. Masonic policemen, barristers, judges, MPs and Lords, all trade favours with each other, give preferment to each other, find the guilty innocent, and so on. Masonic town councillors give lucrative contracts to businessmen who are in the same Lodge. It is said that the country is run by people who recognize each other by funny handshakes.
There is undoubtedly an element of truth in such accusations. The detailed case histories in Knight's and Short's books - even those based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence - might well be entirely accurate; each reader must judge how much weight can be placed on often undocumented anecdotes. But whether they are true or not, what is at fault is the inferences the authors draw from these cases. Their reasoning appears to be that because there have been 'proven' instances of corrupt conduct involving Freemasons, then Freemasonry itself is responsible: the organization itself is corrupt.
The logical lacuna here is obvious. Does discovery of one dishonest policeman result in suspicion being cast on the whole police force; or does one Catholic priest's fathering of a love-child destroy the moral reputation of the Roman Catholic Church?
There will of course be corrupt Freemasons. There are corrupt businessmen, policemen and lawyers who are Freemasons, and others who are not. Knight and Short ignore the simple fact that if two members of the same Lodge trade commercial favours to their mutual advantage, what this actually shows is that there are two corrupt individuals, who happen to be Freemasons, working together. What it doesn't show is that Freemasonry is a corrupt organization.
One of the most common accusations is that, with the large number of judges who are Freemasons, favour is shown when sentencing brother Masons. It is quite possible that on some occasions this might have happened, but at least one High Court judge who is a Freemason has stated publicly that if he were to see a defendant making Masonic signs in court, his personal inclination would be to sentence him more harshly for abusing his Masonic membership in attempting to secure a miscarriage of justice.
It is often said that Freemasons are pledged to keep each others' secrets except in cases of murder or treason. On this point it is worth looking at the actual wording of the Obligation made on becoming a Master Mason:
that my breast shall be the sacred repository of his secrets when entrusted to my care - murder, treason, felony, and all other offences contrary to the laws of God and the ordinances of the realm being at all times most especially excepted.4
IT IS THE OLD ADDAGE THAT ONE BAD APPLE DOES NOT MEAN THE WHOLE CART OF APPLES IS CORRUPT - Keith Hunt
Origins of Freemasonry
The origins of Freemasonry are astonishingly blurred, considering how relatively young the movement is. We can look back to the sixteenth, seventeenth or eighteenth centuries and say with some degree of certainty that, for example, the Calvinist movement or the Bank of England or dictionaries of the English language began because certain specific people said or did or wrote certain specific things at certain specific times, and we can then trace their development. In the case of Freemasonry we cannot do this. There are indications and clues, but they often seem to be pieces from different jigsaw puzzles. Even John Hamill, Librarian and Curator of the United Grand Lodge of England for sixteen years, the Centenary Master of the research Lodge Quatuor Coronati No 2076, Director of Communications for UGLE from 1999, and one of the most respected Masonic scholars in Britain today, says, 'We don't know enough about how Freemasonry evolved, and we don't know enough about the early development of rituals; the earliest ritual fragments we have date from the mid-1690s onwards. We don't know what went on before then.'
The one clear undisputed fact in the early history of Freemasonry is the getting together of four London Lodges at the Goose and Gridiron alehouse in St Paul's churchyard on 24th June 1717 to form a Grand Lodge.5 The first Grand Master was Anthony Sayer, a gentleman; the first noble Grand Master, the Duke of Montagu, was appointed four years later. It is certain that there were some Lodges in existence before then, but details are sketchy. Elias Ashmole noted in his diary in 1646 that he was initiated into a Lodge in Warrington; other Lodges were founded in Chester around 1670, and in Scarborough in 1705, and no doubt there were others.
By 1730 there were over a hundred English Lodges under the Grand Lodge. An Irish Grand Lodge was established by the mid-1720s, and a Scottish one in 1736. Then complications set in, with the establishment of various rival Grand Lodges.
The most serious rift was between the 'Antients', founded in 1751, and the 'Moderns', the original 1717 Grand Lodge. The confusing names occur because a group of five Lodges came together with the 'desire to revive the Ancient Craft upon true Masonical principles', accusing the original Grand Lodge of modernizing rituals.
After decades of often bitter infighting among Masons, the two rival Grand Lodges, each with a royal prince as its Grand Master, were eventually reconciled in December 1813; the United Grand Lodge of England was born nearly a century after the first Grand Lodge.
Those years of dispute produced much of the ritual of today's Freemasonry - and also much of the confusion of fact and fiction, history and legend, that bedevils Masonic historians today.
Just one example will suffice to show how Masons created a rod for their own back.
William Preston's highly influential Illustrations of Masonry was first published in 1772, and went through many expanded editions over the following fifty years. It includes at face value a letter and annotated pamphlet now known to be a forgery; the letter, dated 1696, purports to be from the philosopher John Locke to Thomas, Earl of Pembroke, and accompanies a supposed copy of a copy of an 'original faid to be the hand-writing of K. Henry VI', which is a set of questions and answers about 'the Myftery of Masonrye'.
Quest. What dothe the mac,onnes concele and hyde? Answ. Thay concelethe the arte of ffyndinge neue artes, and thatt ys for here own proffytte, and preife: they concelethe the arte of kepynge fecrettes, that foe the worlde mayeth nothinge concele from them. Thay concelethe the arte of wunderwerkynge, and of forefayinge thynges to comme, that fo thay fame artes may not be ufedde of the wyckedde to an euyell ende. Thay alfo concelethe the arte of chaunges, the wey of wynnynge the facultye of Abrac, the fkylle of becommynge gude and parfyghte wythouten the holpynges of fere and hope; and the univerfelle longage of maconnes.
This wonderful document certainly dates back as far as 1753, but who wrote it, and when, and why, are all unknown. Preston, one of the leading lights of Freemasonry in his day, quoted it as genuine, and it was clearly believed so by many other Masons. Preston's Illustrations makes fascinating reading, claiming as it does that 'From the commencement of the world, we may trace the foundation of Mafonry. Ever fince fymmetry began, and harmony difplayed her charms, our Order has had a being.'6 Disentangling the fact from the fantasy, here as elsewhere, has caused problems ever since.
Masonic legends trace the history of Freemasonry as far back as King Solomon, and some early Masonic historians stated this as fact. Most present-day writers, whether Freemasons or not, distinguish between such legends and more likely factual origins. In general they see two main starting points: the medieval stonemasons' guilds, and the seventeenth-century interest in esoteric philosophy - or, loosely, Rosicrucianism. Others, more controversially, insist that the Freemasons are the descendants of the Knights Templar.
TO BE CONTINUED
WE SEE FOR INTEREST HOW THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE HAS CHANGED SINCE THE DOCUMENT OF ABOUT 1753.
IT ILLUSTRATES TO SOME DEGREE THE DIFFICULTY OF TRANSLATING THE BIBLE FROM ANCIENT HEBREW AND GREEK, THAT HAD NO PUNCTUATION, AT ALL; JUST ONE LETTER AFTER ANOTHER.